Ten Second-Year NBA Players to Watch This Season: Who Will Impress?

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Matisse Thybulle leads many other second-year NBA players as a contender to make the biggest leap in their second year.
NEW YORK, USA - JANUARY 20 : Furkan Korkmaz (30) and Matisse Thybulle (22) of Philadelphia 76ers are seen during NBA match between Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets held on January 20, 2020 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Through one season, the 2019 draft class showed a lot of promise, led by Ja Morant and Zion Williamson. However, a lot of guys flew under the radar in year one. Here are ten second-year NBA players to watch this season. To qualify for this list, players couldn’t have made an all-rookie team last year.  

10. Bol Bol, Denver Nuggets

After falling to the 41st pick in the draft, Bol Bol missed the majority of his rookie year after he suffered a foot injury in college. However, he was able to return in the bubble, where he averaged 5.7 ppg and 2.7 rebounds in 12.4 minutes per game across 7 games. 

It’s unclear how big of a role Bol is going to have on this team. However, his 7’1” frame and his ability to shoot threes makes him an intriguing prospect. Hopefully Bol will get some playing time this season because he’s entertaining to watch.  

9. Ty Jerome, Oklahoma City Thunder

A standout point guard at Virginia, Ty Jerome struggled with Phoenix in his rookie season. Upon returning from injury, Jerome shot an abysmal 33.6% from the field and 28% from deep over 31 games. 

However, with a change of scenery in OKC, Jerome should be in a better situation. Jerome was part of the CP3 trade and will likely see increased minutes as the backup point guard on a young OKC squad. Hopefully he can put it together in year two.  

8. Jalen McDaniels, Charlotte Hornets

A product of San Diego State, Jaden McDaniels fell to the 52nd pick in the 2019 draft. McDaniels provides an impressive frame at 6’10,” as he’s able to create his own shot from all three levels. In 16 games as a rookie, McDaniels averaged 5.6 ppg on 47.1% from the field and 37.5% from three. 

The Hornets are not going to be contenders, making sense for them to give McDaniels every opportunity to play. Miles Bridges will likely start at small forward, but McDaniels should be the first guy off Charlotte’s bench. If he gets the chance to see regular playing time, McDaniels could take a giant leap forward in year two.  

7. Daniel Gafford, Chicago Bulls

Prior to suffering a season-ending broken thumb, Daniel Gafford was quietly having an excellent rookie year. Gafford has a play style similar to Jarrett Allen, where he can rim-run on offense and protect the paint on defense. Last season he shot 70.1% from the field while blocking 1.3 shots in 14.2 minutes per game. 

Wendell Carter Jr. will start at center for the Bulls, but Gafford should see consistent playing time. He doesn’t have much of a jump shot, but he can score around the paint. If he can take a step forward, he could project to put up numbers similar to Mitchell Robinson of the New York Knicks.  

6. Grant Williams, Boston Celtics

The 22nd pick in the 2020 NBA draft, Grant Williams turned it on in the second half of his rookie season with the Celtics. Williams struggled to shoot but brought a ton of intensity off the bench. He recorded a DBPM of 1.4 as a rookie, well above the league average for a small forward. 

With Gordon Hayward gone, Grant Williams may see an uptick in minutes in his second NBA season. To take his game to the next level, Williams needs to become a more reliable three-point shooter. If he can accomplish that, he’ll project to be the Celtics’ sixth man in the future. 

5. Sekou Doumbouya, Detroit Pistons

As the youngest player in the NBA, Sekou Doumbouya spent most of his rookie year in the G League. Upon getting called up, he flashed some potential but struggled to play well consistently. In total, he averaged 6.4 ppg on 39.0% from the field and 28.6% from deep in 19.8 minutes per game. 

The Detroit Pistons are an absolute disaster and have a log jam of big men. With zero expectations of making the playoffs, the Pistons would be smart to give Doumbouya starting minutes. The team may struggle but if Doumbouya can improve, he’ll be the most fun player to watch on Detroit.  

4. RJ Barrett, New York Knicks

Despite being the third pick in the draft and having a solid season, RJ Barrett failed to make an All-Rookie team last year. Barrett is a solid facilitator in transition but cannot shoot consistently. As a rookie, he averaged 14.3 ppg and 5.0 rpg on 40.2% from the field and 32.0% from deep. 

The Knicks have one of the youngest teams in the league and should continue to play through Barrett. At age 20, Barrett will have the opportunity to break out as the Knicks’ primary ball-handler. It will be interesting to see if he can have somewhat of a breakout campaign.  

3. Matisse Thybulle, Philadelphia 76ers

A defensive stalwart, Matisse Thybulle looks like a steal for the 76ers as the 20th pick in the 2019 draft. On offense, his shot still has a lot of work to do, but he already projects to be an elite defender. He led all rookies with a ridiculous 3.1 DBPM last year, top ten in the NBA among guards. 

With Al Horford and Josh Richardson gone, Thybulle may get the chance to start some games for the 76ers next season. He has the potential to be that third guy on a champion team, but he needs to improve offensively. If he can become a reliable shooter, it will go a long way for Philly. 

2. Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers

The fifth pick in the draft, Darius Garland struggled to find his way as a rookie. However, that’s often the case for rookie NBA point guards. Look at De’Aaron Fox, who struggled mightily on both ends of the floor as a rookie. However, his sophomore campaign was much different for Fox, as he put it together and became a MIP candidate. 

In year two, Garland has a chance to follow that path as well. While Collin Sexton is a reliable scorer, Garland has a higher ceiling and should be the starting point guard in the future. He’s a freak athlete and solid shot-creator but needs to put it all together. It will be interesting to see if Garland can have a significant breakout in year two.  

1. Jaxson Hayes, New Orleans Pelicans

For people that have followed my writing, you know that I am incredibly high on Jaxson Hayes from Texas. Last season, I wrote an article for Prime Time Sports Talk, where I claimed Hayes would be the best player from this draft. 

Hayes’ game is still very raw. At this point, he’s still primarily a rim-runner and paint protector. However, he’s added some muscle and should see an increase in playing time in year two. Ideally, he’ll be able to learn from Steven Adams, get some more experience, and then have the opportunity to take a massive leap in 2021-22. Regardless, Hayes is a highlight machine and should be very fun to watch this season.  


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